We’ve just sent out our postcard promotion—and interestingly enough, it features work from one of the most remarkable promotional mailers we’ve seen. Tree People, by our Baltimore-based photographer Clark Vandergrift, was the result of extraordinary creativity and labor.
Clark created one of the most striking series of pictures we’ve seen, and put them together in an innovative packaging. He sent this mysterious box to art directors and photo editors, and received a range of enthusiastic responses. Mike Scalise, Creative Director at BVK, told him: “I don’t know how you came up with my name for your mailing list, but [I’m] glad you did.” Len Rallo, VP Group Director at Digitas, said, “I’ve been in this business for a while, and it’s refreshing to come across someone who cares so much about presentation.” Kelly Hopkins, VP Director of Art Production at GSD&M’s Idea City, simply wrote in her email to Clark, “Thank you for making my day with your images.”
I wanted to learn more about the reception of this promo, so I asked Winston Chueng, Art Director at Burrell, to explain why Clark’s promo stood out. He said,
The box makes it stand out, compared to the hundreds of other promos I get… just in an envelope or book form. What was nice was [that] I felt the box tied in with the photos. Could this box have been made by the tree people? I like to think they did… He did his homework. I love photographers who care about every detail and it looks like Clark did.
Clark was kind enough to fill us in on some more details about the production of this piece. Take a look at the interview below.
Where did the idea for “Tree People” come from?
The idea came to me in pieces. My mind first started thinking of the series when I was taking a walk through the Redwoods. For me, it seemed so “other-worldly,” and really started the creative ideas that evolved over time until I settled on including body painted models.
What approach did you take to the work?
Since that trip to the Redwoods, I found myself noticing more trees, and especially the unique lifelike qualities of certain species (the Ancient Bristlecone Pines, for example). I began researching unique trees and locations and making special trips to photograph them. I spent a couple years on and off researching trees and traveling to some very remote locations to shoot them.
After the right talent had been selected for each scene we would put them on a pre-lit set in the studio (usually in their underwear), do a quick shot, a quick composite, and make a large print to be hung beside the set. This print served as a guide for the body painter, Jen Seidel, so that she could determine the scale of person in the shot. Jen is extremely talented, and got the elements of her paint to line up seamlessly with the existing photographs. Jen would usually spend from two to four hours doing the painting. From this point, I would usually spend at least another day or even two doing retouching to each image to make the composite as seamless as possible. I don’t think people have any idea that these are composites.
How did you find your collaborator, and how did collaboration change the creative process?
I found Jen’s work online and I had no idea where she was located. As it turns out, she is two miles from my studio and her daughter is classmates with my son… what a small world.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the first shot we worked on together. I didn’t know how much I would need to supplement her painting to blend the composite. After seeing what she was able to achieve on the set, we really pushed the idea to the limits and created blends that needed very little retouching in terms of blending the bodypaint with the existing photographs. This was key, as it provided a very clearcut idea of what the end result would look like while we were shooting in the studio.
What kind of feedback did you get?
I made 300 slide lid wooden boxes to send out to carefully selected creative directors, art directors, art buyers, and photo editors around the country. I have received about 25 call-backs or emails from recipients telling me how much they appreciate the great artwork and the level of production that went into each piece.
There are 11 images in each box for a total of 3,300 prints. I custom printed them myself. After all the photography was complete, it took me another solid month to complete the promo. I spent 10 long days doing the printing and another two weeks trimming prints, interleaving them with glassine, wrapping them with a self-custom-printed canvas strap, including the note from the artist, bubble wrapping and boxing the piece, and attaching shipping labels. It is significantly more work than a postcard or email blast, but the results are worth the effort.